Thursday, February 3, 2011

Working Mothers

A few weeks ago, four or five Caymanian mothers mounted a street protest to beg for jobs. As you would expect, the authorities got all their knickers in a twist. The Labour Office vowed to find out why they had been turned down for jobs in favour of some less qualified foreigners. Sigh. We never heard what happened to them in the end; did they get jobs or not?

I rather hope they didn’t get jobs - and here’s why. Being a mother is already a full-time job, pretty much - especially a mother of four children, as one of the protestors was. Children get sick, and in trouble at school. They need milk and cookies after school, and supervision at weekends and during school holidays, and tender loving care most other times. The last thing these protesting mothers needed or wanted was extra work. What they needed and wanted was extra money. Theirs was a Social Services problem, not a Labour Office one.

I’ve gone into this in some detail in my column in this weekend’s edition of Cayman Net News.  The topic of working mothers with at-risk children deserves a lot more attention than it receives; it deserves debate.
All unemployed Caymanians - including of course the protesting mothers - are victims of Cayman’s wretched Immigration law. Once hired, most native Caymanians can never be fired - except with the payment of a bribe to some official. I don’t know if all Caymanians are aware of this, but all expat employers are. So who in his right mind would hire a Caymanian who has been turned down for every other job he or she has applied for, and who would be nigh impossible to get rid of?

We all grumble about Cayman’s bad parents, who don’t spend enough quality time with their children. Children who are uncared-for and undisciplined are at high risk of becoming criminals or druggies or both. So why on earth would we want these protest-mothers to join the workforce? Are we mad? Surely it would be better to pay them to stay at home and mind their kids, than to wait until the kids grow up and are shot while burgling, or locked away for life as drug addicts.

I don’t advocate paying all mothers to stay home and mind their babies - but some, yes. I have two grandchildren in Norway whose unmarried mother is paid to stay out of the workforce during their formative years. Norway is a rich little country ("little" by world standards, though with 100 times the population of Cayman), but it’s no richer than Cayman, per capita. Its politicians’ priorities are different from ours, that’s all. It pays as much to unmarried mothers as Cayman pays in subsidies to Cayman Airways over the years.

Looking for a Norwegian town to compare with Cayman for size, I found Lillehammer, which has about the same number of voters as Cayman. It’s a sophisticated tourist resort, famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics. The remarkable thing about Lillehammer is that its governing council has (so far!) resisted the temptation to operate its own airline - or its own ridiculous turtle farm, come to that.

Like every other Norwegian town of its size, it chooses child-care over hugely expensive vanity projects. Why don’t we do that?